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goal power One key area of the Liverpool team concerns me and Jurgen Klopp needs to find a solution

Lack of midfield firepower has been a recurring problem

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Midfielder Naby Keita hasn’t hit the heights at Anfield since joining the club from RB Leipzig.

Midfielder Naby Keita hasn’t hit the heights at Anfield since joining the club from RB Leipzig.

Midfielder Naby Keita hasn’t hit the heights at Anfield since joining the club from RB Leipzig.

One key area of the Liverpool team concerns me and, sooner or later, Jurgen Klopp needs to find a solution.

I suggested in my Sunday World columns throughout the summer that Liverpool needed to sign a midfielder – and that was not just to replace the departed Gini Wijnaldum.

Losing a player of that quality and failing to replace him is a decision that might come back to haunt Liverpool in the months ahead, but I agree with the manager when he says a direct replacement for Wijnaldum was not needed.

Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Thiago, Fabinho, Harvey Elliott, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones ensure numbers are not a problem for Liverpool in the midfield area.

You could argue they have too many players in that position as several will not get too many games this season, but they are sadly missing one quality from the central area of the field – a regular supply of goals.

To prove my point, the most prolific goalscoring midfielder for Liverpool last season was Wijnaldum with just two goals.

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 Gini Wijnaldum.

Gini Wijnaldum.

Gini Wijnaldum.

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Could you believe it!

No other midfielder in Klopp’s side scored more than once in the Premier League last season and that trend is continuing this season.

Heading into today’s game at Leeds, Liverpool have scored six goals in their three games and they have been shared between Mo Salah, Diogo Jota, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

Even in the season when Liverpool ended the club’s 30-year wait for a title win in 2020 and had the Premier League wrapped up long before the end, goals from midfielders were hard to come by.

In fact, centre-back Virgil van Dijk actually outscored the players in the more advanced roles in front of him, as he scored five goals.

Maybe my pessimism is misplaced as there is a chance that Salah, Mane, Firmino and Jota will catch fire and score 20 goals each this season, with that tally likely to be enough to push Liverpool very close to the Premier League title.

The trouble is I just don’t think the front four players Klopp is so dependent on are the force they were a couple of years back, so expecting them to score 80 goals as a quartet might not be realistic.

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Mo Salah must keep firing in the goals this season.

Mo Salah must keep firing in the goals this season.

Mo Salah must keep firing in the goals this season.

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That means Van Dijk and his defensive colleagues will need to score the odd goal to break the deadlock from corners or set-pieces in tight games.

As we have seen with Ireland in the last few days, it’s all well and good trying to pass teams off the park. But the most likely route to goal is often from a corner or set-piece, and it doesn’t matter what level of player you are working with.

Darts

Trent Alexander-Arnold could score a few more from his set-pieces and darts down the flanks. Yet when I look at the midfield options Klopp has at his disposal, I just don’t see goals.

Oxlade-Chamberlain could score a few if he hit top form, and you would like to think Thiago could smash home some long-rangers.

Yet I look at the contribution Bruno Fernandes is making at Manchester United – and that’s the kind of player Liverpool are lacking.

I know a lot of Fernandes’ goals have come from penalties (when he falls over in the box more often that not!!!) and while they might dry up now if his Portuguese colleague Cristiano Ronaldo takes on that duty for United, I’d expect him to comfortably get into double figures again this season.

Kevin De Bruyne will do the same for Man City if he is fit, and they can also expect a supply of goals from midfielders Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden.

Liverpool just don’t have that kind of player – and the signing who was meant to solve this problem has proved to be the biggest disappointment of all the players the club has signed in recent years.

Naby Keita was seen as the playmaker who could fill the hole left by the exit of Coutinho to Barcelona in 2018, but he has struggled to prove his worth at Liverpool and his goal return has been poor.

Keita scored 17 goals in his two seasons with RB Leipzig and that kind of tally would be a step forward for Liverpool, given what the midfielders have produced in recent season.

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t replace Gini Wijnaldum.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t replace Gini Wijnaldum.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t replace Gini Wijnaldum.

Personally, I would have considered trying to offload Keita this summer and using the money generated from his sale to sign a midfielder who could contribute ten or more goals a season.

Spice

Even though I was suggesting Liverpool could have signed a striker this summer to spice up the forward line, a goalscoring midfielder would have been top of my priority list.

Yet the club failed to make their move during the summer window.

Now they are looking to the front four to get them all the goals they need, but what happens if they go on a barren run like we saw from them after Christmas last season, when they went from sitting top of the table at the halfway point to mid-table strugglers in two horrible months?

Klopp will hope that was a blip and he gets the title-winning team of the 2019/20 campaign in the coming months, but the Liverpool boss will not know what to expect.

If we get the free-flowing Liverpool that stormed to the Premier League title, they might get away without a goalscoring midfielder and still achieve success.

The alternative might not be worth thinking about – and if Liverpool’s forwards are not on top form at Leeds today, they will have a problem.

I’ve always had huge respect for Leeds United as a club and enjoyed watching them as they made an overdue return to the Premier League last season.

They have a fine coach in Marcelo Bielsa and what I admired about them last season was their willingness to have a real go against the big teams.

That’s why I’d be betting on both teams to score today and, in front of a passionate Elland Road crowd, Liverpool will need their strikers to be at their best to get the win.

Hopefully, they will.

  • Leeds Utd v Liverpool, Premier League, today, 4.30pm, live Sky Sports

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